New London Police Department
New London K-9 officer Bessie is pictured with her former handler, who left the department to join State Police.
Ten days after the New London City Council unanimously voted to approve an ordinance increasing the size of the city's K-9 unit, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio vetoed the motion.
The ordinance would require the city to maintain a four-dog unit funded by the annual police department budget. The City Council approved the ordinance at a meeting on Aug. 5.
Mayor Finizio has openly pushed back against the ordinance. In his veto message, the mayor cites the following reasons for his opposition:
“1) the Ordinance, as presented, is legally invalid, 2) the Ordinance attempts to micromanage the Police Department functions without any rational basis, 3) the Ordinance places upon the administration a significant unfunded mandate during difficult budgetary times for our police department, and 4) the Ordinance seeks to interfere with the proper processes for collective bargaining.”
Mayor Finizio did, however, promise to double the minimum requirements of the current K-9 program.
“In addition, if the Veto of this Ordinance is sustained, I certify I will seek language in the new contract that expands the minimum K-9 requirement from one to two active units. This will double the existing contractual mandate for a K-9 program,” Mayor Finizio said in the veto message.
In a memo sent to the mayor, Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard estimates the cost of maintaining a three-dog K-9 unit to be about $68,788 per year. This figure represents basic food, kennel, veterinary, training and vehicle costs.
It also includes a list of projected expenses based on equipment maintenance and upgrades recommended to keep the K-9 unit fully operational.
In the memo, Deputy Chief Reichard states, “…it was my position, based on the current financial state of the department and level of crime observed… increasing the size of the canine unit was not feasible and in its present state the current unit does not provide an adequate service to the City of New London.”
The city currently has two K-9 officers, Jasper and Bessie. Bessie was briefly taken out of service and placed in a kennel until backlash from the community spurred the city to reconsider and put Bessie back on the job.
Even so, according to the memo, Bessie “is currently not assigned to a handler and is housed at a local facility.” This leaves the city with just one working K-9 officer.
Residents and City Council members have vocalized their desire to maintain and expand the city’s K-9 unit.
"We do have a demonstrated need for it," said city councilman Adam Sprecace, at the Aug. 5 council meeting. "We've had the K-9 division in the city for a great number of years and when it is operating properly, I think it does everyone in this city a service."
In June, the city elected to retire K-9 officer Buck rather than fund his arthritis medication, which costs $180 per month.
“We don’t want to lose the dogs one by one for various reasons and then have no K-9 unit,” said New London resident and restaurant owner Anita Miller. “It’s a city that needs a K-9 unit.”
“We live in a city where we have the highest crime around, and to ask mutual aid from other cities that may not be able to respond in time is unsatisfactory,” said city councilwoman Marie Friess-McSparran.
The city council has 15 days to overturn Mayor Finizio’s veto and move ahead with the ordinance.